SUP in the City

Looking for a calm waterway not far from the urban center? Oregon's got you covered.
March 7, 2018 (Updated May 13, 2022)

Whether you’re an avid stand-up paddler, have tried it out once or twice or have been meaning to give it a shot, one thing’s for certain: stand-up paddling is big in Oregon and it’s not going away anytime soon.

Part of this activity’s rapid growth is thanks to community groups like the SUP PDX blog, StandUp Portland Facebook group, NW Downwind Hookup, SUP the Gorge, SUP Manzanita and more. These groups help you find fellow paddlers, explore new locations on the water or find the latest conditions, tips and events. “That’s exactly why we started SUP PDX,” says Brett Downen, a long-time surfer and Portland stand up paddleboarder who started the blog “to give people a singular place to get together to discuss paddleboarding and to share where we go, what docks to put in, where are the safest places to paddle in the off-season.”

A woman holds a paddle on a stand-up paddleboard with bridge and mountain in background
Experienced paddlers may strap their life jacket onto their board, but newer paddlers and children under 13 should wear it properly fitted at all times. Courtesy of Columbia River by Lance Koudele

 A Growing Pastime, But Safety First

Look out on the river or lake any given day and you’ll see that the sport has grown exponentially, with paddlers of all types and levels of thrill-seeking. You can take the board out with your kids or your dogs for a relaxing day on the lake or coastal bay (using personal floatation devices for all on board, as well as a whistle, water bottle and a wetsuit in the winter).

You can get a workout as you paddle through the middle of the city on your lunch break — an especially popular pastime in Bend. You can kneel, sit, stand or do yoga on your board — an exhilarating way to spot wildlife and recharge in nature.

Or you can join (or watch) the thrilling sport of downwinding — when experienced paddlers in Hood River and some parts of the Willamette River ride the swell downwind, then shuttle back to the start and do it again. Get inspired at a race like the Rose City SUP Classic

Once you’ve got the SUP bug, here are some hot spots for getting started stand-up paddleboarding — all close to the city and recommended for beginners.

Before you go, however, it’s crucial to keep yourself and your whole crew safe by taking some simple steps.

  • Wear a properly fitted life jacket — it’s required for ages 13 and under and highly recommended for others regardless of age. It may just save your life if you end up splashing into the water, especially in cold water temperatures. Many lake areas have free life jacket kiosks if you don’t have your own.
  • Once you’re on the water, beware of winds or boats creating large waves or swells.
  • Ask an expert about the right type of leash to purchase for your board since the wrong type can be fatal if you fall and get tangled. Quick-release leashes attach to your life jacket and the board and are highly recommended when paddling on any moving water with obstructions like fallen trees from riverbanks.
  • Stay close to shore and avoid fast-moving waters if you’re newer.
  • Finally, stand-up paddlers are required to purchase and have on hand their Waterway Access Permit, which can be purchased online. 
Two people stand on paddleboards
The Willamette River in Portland is a hot spot for summertime paddling. Always watch for wakes from boats, which cause swells. Courtesy of Gorge Performance

Portland Region

Sellwood Waterfront Park, Portland — Stop by and talk to the experts at Gorge Performance and head a few miles south to this easy spot, which is popular in the summertime. Carry your board down the stairs to the beach at the dock or use the old boat ramp on Spokane Street. It’ll be hard not to get distracted by the great blue herons, cormorants and other birds and marine life in the area.

Willamette Park, West Linn — Rent a paddleboard from eNRG Kayaking in West Linn and take it to a spot called the Willamette Narrows, which is full of rocky cliffs and tiny islands to explore — just beware of the poison oak.

Cook Park, Tigard — During high season there’s a rental stand here run by the nonprofit Tualatin Riverkeepers. That makes it super convenient to slide your board into the water from the dock and paddle along this slower section of the Tualatin River.

Mt. Hood and the Columbia River Gorge

Milo McIver Park, EstacadaClackamas River Outfitters in Estacada offers several different classes and tours; try starting with a trip that starts here and heads to Barton Park where you’ll feel like you’re deep in the wilderness but not far from the city at all. Birds of prey, deer, native fish and ancient-looking tree formations are all around.

Waterfront Park, The Dalles — You’ll be out on the glassy water in just minutes at this great launch site in The Dalles. Just 90 minutes from Portland along the Historic Columbia River Highway, the city’s milder, drier conditions make this less-crowded destination a go-to spot for playing on the water.

A boy paddles a board on a river surrounded by foliage
Alton Baker Park in Eugene is a peaceful place to paddle, with tree cover and wildlife all round. Courtesy of SUP2UOregon

Central Oregon

Drake Park, Bend — If you like urban paddling you’ll love it here in the heart of downtown Bend with picnickers and dog-walkers all around. There’s a slow-moving current upstream thatwill take you under a little bridge to the section of the Deschutes River that leads through the Old Mill District. Ride downstream by starting at Riverbend Park, paddling to the Whitewater Park and then on to Drake Park to get the shuttle back up to Riverbend. Rent a board from Stand Up Paddle Bend or Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe.

Willamette Valley

Alton Baker Park, Eugene — SUP2UOregon makes it easy to have a SUP adventure with everything you need included in the rental price: board, board bag, leash, net, dry bag, personal floatation device, whistle, rooftop blocks and straps to transport boards and invasive species permit, required for certain sites. Alton Baker Park, Eugene’s largest riverfront park, is a popular spot for group meetups on this lovely stretch of the Willamette.

One person paddles a kayak and another paddles a stand-up paddleboard down a blue river
The blue waters near Fort Stevens State Park are a tranquil place for stand-up paddling as well as kayaking. Remember to purchase a Waterway Access Permit and have it on hand. Courtesy of Clatsop Paddle Company

Oregon Coast

South Slough, Charleston — The calm waters of the South Slough Natural Estuarine Research Reserve offer a paddleboarding experience unlike any other, where you can spot bald eagles, osprey, great blue herons and belted kingfishers. You can rent your gear in nearby Coos Bay at either Waxer’s Surf & Skate or Bahama Boards. South Coast Tours is also a place to find rental gear — or better yet, take one of their guided standup paddleboard tours which are offered along the Rogue and Chetco rivers.

Know before you go: Oregon’s waterways are popular for all types of recreation, from stand-up paddling to kayaking to boating. Be prepared for the unexpected and wear a life jacket while on the water. For life jacket recommendations, visit the Oregon Marine Board.

About The

Jen Anderson
Jen Anderson is a longtime journalist and travel writer/editor who is now Travel Oregon’s Content & Community Manager, helping to align content for visitors via social media, print and web. She’s called Oregon home for 25 years and loves finding the latest places to eat, drink and play around the state with her husband and two boys. Brewpubs, beaches and bike trails top the list.